Three years ago, Gov. Bruce Rauner slashed state funding for mental health services, autism programs, epilepsy assistance and children’s health care in a move that became known as the Good Friday Massacre.
It wasn’t an isolated incident.
In 2016, 2017 and now with the proposed 2019 state budget, Gov. Rauner continued to eliminate state support for mental health programs. His cuts denied mental health services to nearly 47,000 people in need and cost almost 1,000 mental health workers their jobs.
So, it was with a sense of, let’s call it irony, that I recently received a letter from Gov. Rauner expressing concern for access to mental health services in Illinois. He claims to want to explore and better understand the complex intersection of mental health and gun violence.
Gov. Rauner wants me to appoint people to a “group” that will be sensitive to the needs of the mental health community as part of an effort to study what he could do to address these concerns.
We already have such a group.
It’s called the Illinois General Assembly. And last year it grew frustrated that the governor continues slashing mental health programs. We enacted a 2018 budget to support mental health over the governor’s objections and veto.
As lawmakers we can only authorize spending, we can’t make the governor actually spend the money to support mental health. To date, the governor refuses to fund $26 million worth of mental health programs despite having the full authority to do so.
I don’t think we need more working groups, government commissions or taskforces.
What we need is leadership and action.
Last weekend, millions of people across this country joined March For Our Lives rallies. They didn’t demand more government meetings.
They demand action, and I think they deserve it.
Given Gov. Rauner’s record, he needs to show the people of Illinois his newfound interest in mental health support is sincere and not some post-primary pivot to the left to score political points.
Before assembling another batch of bureaucrats to ponder possibilities, the governor should take action on what’s right in front of him.
First, he should release the mental health grants approved by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
Next, he should sign House Bill 1468 that’s been on his desk for weeks. It creates a 72-hour cooling off period after purchasing an assault weapon. That’s already the law for buying handguns. It received overwhelming support from all corners of the state.
Then, he should join the efforts underway to enact a comprehensive set of laws addressing mental health and gun violence. These proposals have already been studied and assembled. With the governor’s help, we could quickly make them the law of the land.
For example, if a family member recognizes that another family member could be prone to violence and has access to guns, we ought to have a process through which they can go to a judge to have those guns temporarily removed. House Bill 772 does that.
There’s also overwhelming support for banning so-called bump stocks that serve no purpose other than to increase how fast a shooter can pump bullets into a target. And we should empower local communities to enact their own gun laws that meet their residents’ concerns. Those provisions are in House Bill 1467.
We should improve mental health screenings for those applying for gun-owner licenses. That is in House Bill 1664. And teenagers shouldn’t be buying assault weapons. House Bill 1465 closes that loophole.
All of these proposals are advancing in the General Assembly. We could get the job done a lot faster with Gov. Rauner’s help.
Similarly, the governor should reconsider his opposition to Senate Bill 1657, a state licensing system for weapons dealers. More than a year’s worth of work went into creating that bipartisan, comprehensive and practical system. With the governor’s support we could quickly cut through the bickering, get it approved and up and running.
The message is clear: People are demanding action.
Gov. Rauner has the opportunity to take charge and make a difference.
I would encourage him to seize this opportunity.
And then, maybe, we can talk about scheduling more meetings on what we should next work on together.